Big Is Bad and That Is Good

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- Lately, some of our biggest technology names have been taking a beating in the court of public opinion. Google (GOOG) is accused of being evil by stealing personal data during its Street View sweeps and stealing code from rival Oracle (ORCL). It's also said to be making paid ads look like real search results.

Apple ( AAPL) is accused of running sweatshops, of creating cartels to monopolize e-books and Silicon Valley employment, and of avoiding taxes.

Even Facebook, which has yet to go public, is attracting class action suits, scammers and antitrust pushback.

The question is, does any of this matter? Dan Lyons of The Daily Beast thinks it does. He says a possible antitrust suit against Google could destroy the company by putting a stop sign in front of innovation.

Hyperbole? Or opportunity?

I've been watching technology for 30 years and every recovery goes through phases. The first phase is often marked by dominance, the kind that attracts the attention of government. It was at about this point in the dot-com era, after all, that the Justice Department went after Microsoft ( MSFT) over its efforts to kill Netscape.

It's what comes next that matters. Start-ups, new ideas, IPOs. Small, aggressive companies poaching employees from the big boys and launching new concepts in money-making. We've already seen some of that with social networking and online games. We're starting to see that happen with cloud computing.

What makes America's technology market special is just this economic mobility. The market is huge, the government pays attention to entrenched interests, and there are whole industries dedicated to finding and nurturing the next big thing.

What's wrong with big isn't what big does, but what it is, its nature. It's slow. Because big companies need big hits to move the earnings needle, they focus on a few things and leave smaller ideas alone. It's these smaller ideas that power the tech economy forward, because a few will turn out not to be that small after all.

Under CEO Larry Page, Google has already demonstrated this. Page was reportedly told by dying Apple CEO Steve Jobs to focus on just a few things, and has been busy pruning projects like a mad tree surgeon. Google Desktop, Google Notebook, Google Fast Flip, Google Health, and even Google Labs have all been quietly shuttered.

Google already isn't Google anymore, a company that let a thousand technology ideas bloom. But no big company can act like a start-up. That's what start-ups are for.

While Google, Apple and even Facebook are hemmed in with lawyers, opportunity is growing for the next Larry Page and Mark Zuckerberg to emerge from the pack. While the big boys' images are being tarnished, there's a chance for newcomers to spruce up theirs, to think different and do things right -- which means the next few years should be really interesting.

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